Friday, July 30, 2010

Introducing Guest Blogger Melanie

Introducing the amazing Melanie, who is quite an inspiration. I feel very excited about having her publish on this blog. I hope that you enjoy her shared experience. Everyone truly has a story to tell!

Hello. My name is Melanie and I am 26 years old. I am in my second year of studying to become a primary school teacher and I work at IDEAS as an Intake Officer one day a week. I live at home with my mum, step-dad and dog Lilly and look forward to getting a place of my own once I graduate and and have a full time teaching job. I have had a vision impairment since birth. I have congenital cataracts. They were removed when I was 6 weeks old but have permanently damaged my vision. There are no special glasses or laser treatments available that can restore my sight. I have been wearing strong bi-focal glasses since I was two months old.

Did you notice how I started off writing about who I am? There are many elements that make up me. My family and friends, the things I like and the values that are important to me. Sure my disability is a part of me too but it doesn't define who I am. Often something others do without even realising.

I think the only really significant thing that I cannot do is drive a car. That doesn't bother me too much because I have grown up relying on public transport. It is my norm. As far as everything else goes, well, I will always find a way. I have done some pretty out there things including abseiling, canoeing, ice skating, roller blading and bike riding. Hang on a minute… how does a blind person go roller blading, you ask? Well, the same way sighted people do! Putting one foot in front of the other, toppling over and clinging on to someone so tightly that you cut off their circulation!

When I have my vision aids and technology, I am completely capable at fully participating in life. If I need assistance, I ask for it and don't feel ashamed. I used to become quite frustrated with people who would constantly offer to help or do things for me. I couldn't work out why people seemed to feel the need to intervene when I didn't need or ask them to. I've realised that people do have good intentions. Sometimes too good. But the problem is the majority of people don't understand about disability. They don't see it as normal. Quite the opposite in fact. They feel pity and discomfort. When I walk down the streets using my cane, I sometimes hear small children asking their parents what my cane is. 99% of those parents tell their children to be quiet or to stop being so rude. I think I am more comfortable about talking about my disability than most others around me. I want little children to come up to me and ask questions. If they don't, then how are they going to understand that I am a normal, capable person just as they are. Instead they are getting the message that something is terribly wrong. This isn't terribly wrong for me. I don't even think about it all that much. I have had this my entire life so I don't know any different.

A lot needs to change in society. I am really passionate about inclusion. That is, no segregation, no special schools, no institutions, no restrictions. I want to see a society where disability is the norm. It's just as accepted as having brown eyes or red hair. In a perfect world all buildings and forms of transport would be accessible. All written material would be provided in alternative formats such as Braille and audio. Schools would be adequately funded to support children with disability, and include them in mainstream classes. Teachers would be trained to adapt the curriculum to cater to these students. Workplaces wouldn't think twice about hiring a person with disability. The parents of little children would encourage them to go up to people like myself and talk to us rather than shy away. I could go on and on… of course, we are progressing but at such a slow rate. I hope I get to experience a society like this in my time. People often ask me if my vision can be "fixed". They talk about laser, bionic eyes etc. and try and encourage me by saying that technology continues to improve so surely there will be a cure in my lifetime. I don't think about that stuff. As far as I am concerned, nothing needs to be fixed. I'm fine just the way I am.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Little Unconventional

Hello all my lovely followers.

I am taking a step towards being a tad on the unconventional side today with a posting that does make mention of IDEAS NSW. Bear with me! The posting is about an up-and-coming event which amazingly tentalises all the senses, allowing people with hearing impairment to be able experience the thrills and excitement of a musical event. Once informed of the premier of the event in Sydney 2010 - that's right, it's a once in a lifetime event that shows nationally but is making it's special way to Sydney - IDEAS pounced on the chance to be a sponsor. So how are we sponsoring the event!!?!? We are giving away 10 FREE VIP DOUBLE PASSES to the event to make sure that you don't miss out. Read the below to find out how to get the passes and to discover more about the event.


Ideas NSW announces their competition for the hottest inclusive night club event in New South Wales, happening on the 27th August at Home Nightclub, Darling Harbour.

SenCity is a multi-sensory, multi-faceted, special event for people who are hearing impaired and deaf and with any other ability or disability.
 During this spectacular event the emotions and passions of music are converted to all

Special techniques employed at this event include an imported vibrating dance floor, so that people can really feel the music. The vibrating dance sensors are attached to the amplifiers so that the entire dance floor responds to the frequency of the music. Sign singers interpret lyrics.

Visual Jockeys Food Jockeys and Aroma Jockeys are on hand to provide aroma
compositions to interpret music for other senses.
 The chill space has side performances to engage other senses like hairdressers, makeup
artists and masseurs.
 To be part of the 1000 (over 18yrs) people attending this one-night-only experience you can win tickets sponsored by Ideas NSW by:
 1. Registering your email at so that we can keep you updated on the event and announce the winners. This website will be your access to insight into the spectacular event.

2. Provide one of two entry options:

(a) Submit a video of an original dance off which incorporates the IDEAS SMS number which is 0458 296 602, interpreted however you would like. Your entry must then be uploaded to SENCITY WIN Facebook fanpage at

(b) Submit an original still photo shot of yourself displaying the IDEAS SMS number which is 0458 296 602, at the most creative spot that you can think of. Your entry must then be
uploaded to SENCITY WIN Facebook fanpage at

To upload images/video simply go to the write a comment area at the top of the SENCITY WIN Facebook fanpage site and click on the photo/video link, browse for your photo/video and click share. All entries must be uploaded before the end of the promotion period. The promotion will end at 5.00pm (AEST) on the 20th of August 2010.
 There a five double passes for each category. Please make sure you read the terms and

conditions available at before you enter. For more
information call IDEAS NSW on 1800 029 904 or email

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paula Apodaca - The Day I Drowned at Tin Can Beach

Hi everyone,

As you all know I have been lucky enough to have the wonderful Paula Apodaca writing for this blog, despite the fact that she has her own blog. Today I would like to share with you one of her wonderful successes. Her words and story has been entered on to the site/journal 'Breath & Shadow - A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature Spring 2010, Volume 7, Number 2. Not only do I commend her for her amazing job, I also want to help others to realise the fine ability she has to demonstrate and reveal the truth of disability, her experiences and the changes it has on ones life. I would like to suggest that you all check it out, it really is quite a marvellous achievement for her and I feel very lucky that we have her as a guest blogger on this site. Check out her story titled 'The Day I Drowned at Tin Can Beach'.



Friday, July 16, 2010

Your home need not become your prison

I am very excited about the blog post that I can offer you today. I have made contact with a very inspirational and symbolic individual and have recieved permission to publish her amazing article here. I know that you will all know of her. Cynthia Banham is an Australian journalist that writes for the Sydney Morning Herald, and I believe some other publications on the occassion. Her role as a journalist and her great ability to source stories led her into a dangerous situation that left her with only half of one of her legs. In 2007 a plane crash occurred in Indonesia, claiming the lives of 21 individuals, including 5 Australians. An article described Banham's escape from the fires when she was "airlifted to Perth from Indonesia with back injuries and extensive burns to her lower body after a Garuda Boeing 737-400 plunged off a runway at Yogvakarta and caught fire..." The crash left Cynthia with a disability. However, Cynthia has really proven that one can achieve just as much no matter ones disability. Her future in journalism has been fabulous and she has sent article after article to the Australian population sharing her amazing experiences. One particular article struck my and most of Australia's eyes. From the permission of Cynthia herself and taken from SMH here is her article 'Your home need not become your prison'.

Cynthia Banham

You never plan for a life-changing injury. It's something you just hope never happens. Growing old is more of a certainty. But both events can have a profound impact on the way you feel about your home: a sanctuary, or a kind of prison.

I know this first-hand. Catastrophic injuries from a plane crash changed my world forever. If not for the efforts of a family friend, a builder who extensively modified my home while I was still in hospital, I would not have been able to get in the front door, let alone my kitchen or shower.

But what really came as a shock was the impact my injuries had on visiting family and friends. Dropping in for a meal or a cup of coffee, to stay connected to people, is essential to a person's mental well-being. Yet here I was, left in tears on a visit to my in-laws from the indignity of not being able to use their bathroom without help, unable to visit my parents' home where I'd grown up because I couldn't climb the stairs to their front door.

We have laws about accessibility standards in public spaces, but for private homes there are none and I never imagined this would change.

Then eight months ago Bill Shorten, the parliamentary secretary for disabilities, asked me to speak at a meeting he had organised, with Therese Rein as patron, for executives from the housing industry and the ageing, disability and community sectors, at Kirribilli House.

The subject was "universal design" - building a house to last its occupants' lifetimes so whatever happens, should they get injured or grow old, they will still be able to live independently.

If we introduced some minor, inexpensive changes to the way Australia builds homes - changes many times more expensive if done retrospectively - then no house need be a prison. Making houses accessible from the street or car park, slightly widening front doorways and passages, putting a toilet on the ground floor that could be used by someone with mobility issues.

I agreed, intrigued something could be done to improve the lives of 20 per cent of the Australian population with some kind of a disability, and encouraged this concept could have economic and social benefits for all.

Universal design ideas are already being implemented overseas, in Japan, Britain, Canada and Norway. They are gaining traction in Victoria.

What is the appeal? Like Australia, these places have ageing populations. Given the option, most would prefer to grow old in their own homes, retaining connections with family and social networks where they have spent their lives. But with the majority of homes, this is virtually impossible for older people with mobility issues.

It doesn't stop there. A house built for a lifetime would be easier for mothers with prams and people with temporary injuries.

I started out thinking it was an extremely lofty ambition to get this diverse group to agree there was a case for universal design in Australia. The Property Council of Australia, the Housing Industry Association, Master Builders Australia, the Australian Institute of Architects and the Human Rights Commission are unlikely allies.

But Shorten is a superb negotiator, and the determination he has shown over the past three years to fight for a better deal for some of the less lucky Australians is remarkable.

The final details are being nutted out, but soon this dialogue will deliver concrete proposals to the government. These professionals have surprised even themselves with their ability to reach common ground on an issue that for many will be life-changing, in a good way.

Critics might say they don't want to be told by governments how to build their homes, or they don't want to live in houses resembling hospitals. That's not what this is about. Making a doorway a few centimetres wider does not make a house more sterile, just more liveable.

Is it really that big an ask of Australians to give a damn about their fellow citizens with physical limitations, but still want to engage as fully in society as you, their friends, colleagues, families and neighbours?

You never know, one day you might just grow old.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Story of Jason Ballerini

I have a real treat for the readers of this blog today. I was lucky enough to get a contribution from Jason Ballerini who is an inspiration and prime example of a strong person with a disability. Let him represent all those who are feeling like the challenge is too much. I think that his story really represents the common saying that you can do anything if you put your mind to it. He is truly fabulous and I am very happy to share with you his story!

Jason Ballerini

As a fit, active 16yr old, with my life ahead of me, social work or having a career in the disability sector were the last things on my mind. After a diving accident in 1996 left me a quadriplegic, not only did I lose the ability to walk, I felt as though all my options, dreams and aspirations washed away down that creek as well.

It was not long into my rehabilitation that I began to feel this passion inside of my stomach, the passion to overcome the social attitudes and barriers I was now facing. From that day on it was my mission to never let anything stop me from achieving what I wanted. Although motivated to achieve, I was still uncertain in what? It wasn’t until the last month of my rehab, my rehab lasted 4 months when I was told I’d be there for 8-10, that I realised a lot of the other patients were coming to me for advice, a chat or for guidance and hope. It was then I realised that social work, in particular, the disability sector was my calling.

After completing a bachelor of Social Work, I began working in the Disability Advocacy field. Through my experience, study and work I have had the opportunity to gain an understanding of the demands on the disability sector, but also to advance the rights of people with disabilities in our community. In trying to set an example that we are only limited by our own imagination and that the possibilities are endless to those who work hard to achieve their dreams.

Often we see people with disability who attempt to "pass" in the non- disabled world, who want nothing to do with disability groups, especially consumer-run groups. Of course people who have invisible disabilities are more able to hide their disabilities, if they choose to do so. It's a bit ridiculous for a wheelchair user like myself to consider hiding the fact.

But it leads me to wonder why I would want to. Why wouldn't I want people to know that I have a disability, that I accept it as part of who I am and that I am proud of who I am? Why wouldn't I want anyone to know that I confront physical and attitudinal barriers every day of my life and that I identify with strong individuals who are part of the disability rights movement?

I don't hide my disability and I don't "overcome" it either. It's just something I live with. I am not handicapped. Society is handicapped when it shuts out people like me. I am not physically challenged. Tri-athletes and mountain climbers are physically challenged. And I'm certainly no more differently- abled than anyone is from anyone else. No. I just simply have a disability. I don't deny it, or hide it.

Being "seen" as a person with a disability is a conscious choice, whether or not one's disability is visible. For the way others view us is closely connected with the way we view ourselves. Choosing to see disability as a part of who we are and recognise our strengths and abilities, is all part of a process. We need to recognise that having a disability is not a negative thing.

Looking back at the last 14yrs, I can acknowledge has been mighty tough, but it has also been the best 14yrs as well. I have grown so much, and the passion to succeed in this industry is as strong as ever. I have loved every minute of studying and working in this field, and the feeling of helping someone, advocating for change and changing attitudes and policy still drives me to get up every morning and go to work.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Posting from Alison Richardson

After contacting the Coordinator of the First Flight Crew I have come back with a prompt response from Ms Alison Richardson herself!!! Not only did she offer a bit of information about the fantastic group, but she also offered some wonderful pictures to be put on my blog. Special mention to the verse offered by Ana Nguyen at the end of the post. I highly recommend you check them our yourselves!

Alison Richardson

First Flight Crew are an eight piece hip hop outfit from Sydney managed Accessible Arts’ Creative Program Coordinator for Western Sydney, Alison Richardson. “First Flight Crew is about reaching new audiences outside of the disability sector & bringing to them an explosion of beat boxing, rap, dance & projections exposing the talent an spunk of this unique group” says Alison.

The crew are taught by legendary Aussie hip hop artist, Morganics & sprung out of their strong desire to dance, create original music, rap and beat box. The crew was formed in late 2008 & have performed from Bondi to Blacktown including Sydney’s largest Hip Hop festival, Platform 3 at CarriageWorks, Hip Hop projections 5 at Parramatta Riverside & as part of Powerhouse Museum’s recent 80s exhibition.

First Flight Crew member, Ana Nguyen says of being in the crew, “We want tell stories & we want to give the voiceless a chance to say so. We want to do something that will stand out from the crowd. We want to give the crowd the best impression as possible.”

For more information on the First Flight Crew contact Alison on or call 9251 6499 (ext112) or check out the Facebook site or website.

More from Ana:

I hope that this is a way to educate others in some way

And this proves that we can do anything.

We'll break the rules and the stereotypes...

And by being part of the First Flight Crew,

I'm going to prove the critics wrong

That yes, we can do anything.

This is the record of the truth, I can tell you to be honest.

We want tell stories & we want to give the voiceless a chance to say so.

We want to do something that will stand out from the crowd.

We want to give the crowd the best impression as possible.

That’s what I want.

What a great sneak peak : )

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

As you are all aware, I have been spending quite a bit of time on Emma Crees's blog, indulging in her fantastic words about the experience of disability. This little blog post that she sent me for this blog is really quite moving and nice, representing those moments where humanity remembers you!!!!

Emma Crees

I’m sure a lot of disabled people have trouble with people on the street. Or maybe I’m wrong and it’s just me. It’s something I find quite hard to deal with at times.

The ones that mean well and you know they do but you just wish they’d leave you alone. You don’t want them just grabbing the back of your wheelchair and pushing. And don’t take over and pack my shopping for me. The reason why I’m in a wheelchair is none of your business. That sort of thing.

And then there’s the big one. When you’re just sitting there minding your own business perfectly fine, perfectly happy. And people come up and ask if you’re ok, do you need any help?
They wouldn’t do it to an able-bodied person would they? I always wonder and then decide that no they wouldn’t. So it annoys me that they do it to me. After all, if I needed help I’d ask. Leave me alone. Of course, I don’t say things like that I usually just mutter “no” or “I’m fine” and then ignore them.

Only… I’m having to change my mind about that sort of thing.

Several years ago a good friend and I went to London for the day. We took my manual chair and it broke whilst we were walking back to the station. Looking at it we were pretty sure if we got me standing up we might be able to do a temporary fix (which actually didn’t turn out to be the case). There were some railing I could lean on nearby but we couldn’t get me there easily. So we stopped a passer by and asked if she could help. She took one look at my wheelchair and just went “it’s broken” and walked off.

Last week my powerchair broke down in the middle of town. I was stranded by myself. It took quite a while for me to track down a family member to come rescue me and I did get hold of them for them to get to me.

Loads of people stopped and asked if I needed help. Even when my Mum was down with me they still stopped to ask. Before she got there two different sets of people spent a long time separately looking at my chair and trying to see if they could spot a problem.

I still think a lot of people on the street are rude and that they shouldn’t just help without asking. As for the questions, most of the time it’s wrong. But after what happened last week and remembering back to that day in London when we tried to get help and couldn’t? I’m trying to change my attitude about the people who mean well and offer unwanted help. Because I was very grateful for that help last week and it isn’t always there.

Sometimes, the kindness of strangers is a very good thing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Adapting Some Winter Clothing

Another fabulous blog from Rich Fabend!

I know that June, July and August are the winter months in Australia. Right now it is summer, in the States, but it has not been very warm. Much of the time, regardless of the season, I am cold. In my blogs I have been trying to encourage people to think of different methods and telling them that there is more than one way to solve a problem. Here are some things I have done to try to stay warm. My problem was trying to keep my hands and arms warm when I was outside. My fingers are always clenched in a loose fist position. It was very difficult for my wife or nurse to put regular gloves on my hands. It quickly became evident that mittens would work best. Unfortunately, mittens created problems of their own. It was impossible to keep my thumb in the thumb of the mitten. The major problem with mittens however, was that once I took them off I was unable to get them back on by myself. So I designed what I like to call Quad Mitts. They have an opening at each end with the front one tighter. I was able to get my wife's friend to knit a trial pair and they worked extremely well. The picture below shows the pattern that we used. Note that the cuff is extra long and can be folded over what I am wearing so I don't have to worry about them coming off. When I need to use my bare hand I just push it though the hole in the front end and then pull the end back over my hand when I am finished. I am a big man so you may need to adjust the measurements according to your own size. If you know someone who will knit for you maybe you want to think about a pair of sleeves (my arms are always cold) and/or leg warmers. Often in the morning I will have my nurse put my sleeves on with a tee-shirt and then I will take them off when the day warms up. Recently I cut out part of the back of a sweatshirt. I am able to put the sweatshirt on and take it off by myself and it’s not necessary to worry about pulling it down behind me. This was a simple thing to do but it keeps most of the parts of my body I can feel warm.